Working in a remote tea estate near Munnar in the 1960s, I sometimes found life intolerably dull, especially over the weekends when time hung heavy on one’s hands. The estate had little to offer youngsters by way of entertainment. The radio and gramophone were our mainstays, TV being a luxury then.
At such times hunting was an option—popular with the British planters—in the sprawling, wildlife-rich tea garden. With a couple of like-minded colleagues, I used to venture into the wilds in search of small game, usually wild pigs and jungle fowl. It gave us a much-needed break from a monotonous routine.
One Saturday evening, Nathan, Ivan and I set off with our shotguns accompanied by Skipper, Nathan’s frisky retriever. Traversing a lush tea field that looked as if it had been ‘manicured’, the dog sniffed out a covey of jungle fowl and flushed them out.
As the birds briefly took wing squawking raucously in alarm, we fired and two plummeted down. True to his training, Skipper retrieved them and triumphantly trotted back with the birds in his mouth. I gave him an appreciative pat. Moving on, we came to a broad strip of dense ‘shola’ jungle known to harbour jungle fowl and sent Skipper in. We could hear him rustle his way through the dry undergrowth as we waited expectantly, guns at the ready. Strangely, for about ten minutes nothing happened.
An eerie silence enveloped the area.
Then, quite uncharacteristically, we heard Skipper growl at something. Had he chanced upon a porcupine or a wild pig or perhaps a panther, we wondered. Fearing it might be a panther, Nathan tried to whistle the dog back, knowing full well it wouldn’t stand a chance against the feline.
Before we could figure out what was happening, we heard Skipper scampering back through the underbrush with something crashing heavily behind him. The dense foliage of the jungle reduced visibility to almost nil.
Fearing the worst, we prepared to flee. Just then, Skipper burst out of the ‘shola’ and headed straight towards us, tail tucked between his legs in an unmistakable sign of craven fear. And hot on his heels, an irate wild tusker—whom he had obviously disturbed—crashed out of the jungle.
The incensed pachyderm sashayed hardly fifteen metres away from us. Then, spotting us, it advanced menacingly, its trunk curled in preparation for a charge. The sight of an elephant about to charge can petrify the boldest of hunters. Dropping our guns, we fled for dear life—with Skipper easily outpacing us!